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Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge

Peter Mills and Cara Reichel's musical adaptation of Playboy of the Western World is likely to leave audiences indifferent. logo
Carol Hickey, Mark Modzingo, and Victoria Huston-Elem
in Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge
(© Gerry Goodstein)
It's unlikely that rioting will break out at the Prospect Theatre Company's Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, now debuting at 59E59 Theaters. Indeed, while watching Peter Mills' Appalachian-flavored musical adaptation of J.M. Synge's 1907 classic Playboy of the Western World, a collective sigh of indifference from the audience seems more likely. Under co-adapter Cara Reichel's direction, the performers give it their all -- and some have more to give than others -- but the overall effect is a tiresome, unimaginative redaction rife with cultural stereotypes that don't go down well in a post-PC environment. Just because this is New York City, does this make poor, ignorant hill people fair game?

Back in Synge's day, Dubliners didn't take to the amoralism of the plot (much less the mention of ladies' undergarments), and it's still a tough sell. A young man, here renamed Clayton (Mark Mozingo), turns up in town claiming to have killed his father as retribution for abuse; in each retelling, the deed grows more dramatic, enhancing his hold on the sympathies of the local ladies. Two of them, barmaid Maggie (Victoria Huston-Elem) and the lusty widow Hazel (Carol Hickey), fall hard. When Maggie calls off her wedding to milquetoast Luther (Jeff Edgerton), Hazel machinates to get it back on track so she can enjoy the spoils. But when Clayton's father (Scott Wakefield, doing what he can with the role) turns up manifestly undead, the tide of public opinion turns against Clayton: it seems patricide is preferable to a bragging.

There are a few more twists in the plot, none terribly surprising, and by the time they arrive, the weaker performances have begun to wear. To snow his audience, Clayton needs to convey a larger-than-life charisma; Mozingo's affect is furtive and needy -- edging into a profile more appropriate to Luther (whom Edgerton lends literal cartoon moves, like pumping his arms when too panicked to run). When Maggie and Clayton commit with a duet ("More to Me") in which the hitherto prickly female finally lets down her guard as the male rover begins to see the advantages of settling down, the emotion seems canned.

The one performer who steadily bears watching is Hickey as the conniving widow. Her reactions have range and subtlety -- plus she can really sing, an aptitude not salient among much of the cast. Matthew Duré, too, has a few nice character cameos when he's not on guitar duty. Meanwhile, Tate R. Burmeister's set is serviceable, and Sidney Shannon's costuming is adequate. It's unclear, however, who is responsible for the makeup, specifically the all-too-real head wound that makes Clayton's dad just about impossible to look at -- especially if you're squeamish.

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